[I apologize in advance for soppiness of the story, but I believe it suits the characters.]The Tudor mansion just outside Stratford-upon-Avon was the location selected for this most unusual event. It was near enough in familiarity to the guests out of time, so as to make them feel a little at home in this foreign century. All four ladies were also avid Shakespeare fans, and were sure to enjoy tour of the town and see how modern people were still enjoying the bard, albeit sometimes turning the classics in various modern forms of so-called art which no doubt made the author turn in his grave. But that was hardly going to be the most sensational thing, in this entirely unique experience, where fictional heroines of the past were attending a party in the very real world. We shall refer to the hostess of this party as Mrs X. Not original, but entirely suitable under the circumstances, for if her unusual abilities of bringing people to life from books were ever to become widely known, it would certainly get her into trouble. Let us move now inside the mansion, where the hostess was waiting. Mrs. X glanced at the grandmother clock. Five to seven. The guests would be ready soon. Promptness was a trait they all shared. She smoothed the front of her black cocktail dress. She had considered wearing a regency costume, but decided against it. She wanted her guests to meet her as herself, a woman of 2010, not someone pretending to be from the past. She had the ability to bring the past to her. She didn’t know of anyone else who could boast of that. She had every right to be herself. Besides, the women she was about to meet, the women she admired very much, knew a thing or two about being one's self. There was a gentle knock on the door, then it opened, and the butler walked in her sitting room. “They are ready, madam,” the butler said.
Mrs. X nodded. The butler held the door open for her; she walked out to the dining room where a special round table was set for the evening, so all the guests could interact easily with one another. Mrs. X stood by the dining room door, ready to greet her guests.
The first to enter was Mrs. Emma Knightley, looking pretty in a yellow silk dress, and kid gloves. Her fair hair was arranged in a fashionable twirls around her face. Her warm smile made Mrs. X think that Emma was as sunny as she had always been.Mrs. Fanny Bertram and Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy walked in together. Both dark haired, yet they couldn't have been more different. Lizzy, in an ivory gown, looked around her with unabashed curiosity and astonishment. A little sly glance at Mrs. X fitted dress was also noted. Her greeting to Mrs. X was confident. Marital state hadn't brought a great deal of change in either Lizzy's personality or person, though she was a little plumper, with rosy cheeks and the brightness of eyes that had captured the attention of aloof Mr. Darcy so long ago. Fanny was gentle in her greeting, and softer in tone. She wore a light blue dress, and around her neck was the golden chain that her dear Edmund had gifted her to fit William's cross. The surety of her position in the society, and in the household as a wife and a much needed daughter-in-law, had given Fanny Bertram more confidence than Fanny Price had ever possessed. She still did not dare to think herself rightful of affection or notice, but at least she no longer thought herself undeserving of them. The last to enter was Mrs. Anne Wentworth. She wore a white gown, and her one sign of being now a travelling lady was the exotic peacock brooch Captain Wentworth had bought her when they were in Indies together. Her soft brown eyes looked on openly at the others. Mrs. X and her guests took their seats around the table. As a hostess, Mrs. X felt obliged to start the conversation, and she did so by profusely thanking her guests. "You've no idea how badly I wanted to meet you. Of all the people I've ever wanted to meet throughout history, four of you were the first one my list." Her guests were quite genuinely astonished, and blushed in the most becoming manner. They never thought their lives would interest anyone outside their personal acquaintances. Anne put it well saying, "I am at a loss to understand why, Mrs. X. I cannot lay claim to any heroic deed or any significant contribution to the society. My life revolves around my family. There is nothing out of ordinary about it." "If we weren't fascinated by the ordinary lives of others, so much of history would cease to be fascinating," Mrs. X said. The conversation started slowly while the first course was served, but soon the guests began to feel quite at ease. "Your dress is quite extra-ordinary and sensational. I could not have imagined there would come a time when people would dress in such a manner," Emma said to Mrs. X. "Perhaps you should take it back with you, and see how your Mr. Knightley feels when you wear it," Mrs. X said. Emma blushed. "He shall have to lecture me on my wickedness again. He doesn't do that often now, perhaps it will be fun to give him a cause." "How is the married life going for you all?" Mrs. X asked. "It is certainly better to be in control of one's own household than to be a guest under one's mother's control," Elizabeth said. "And Mr. Darcy?" Mrs. X asked, with a wink. She wondered how the two head-strong characters were getting on together. "He is both wonderful and annoying. We quarrel, we argue and attempt to justify our arguments, and in the end we concede to whoever had reason on their side. I do believe we understand one another so much better now that there is less cause for stupid quarrels. Of course, now we have children to quarrel about where I think they should run as much as they like, and Mr. Darcy would like them to be a disciplined little soldiers," Elizabeth said. "I cannot imagine quarreling with Edmund," Fanny said quietly. "He has guided me throughout my life, and my own mind is so much a product of his example that we have very little cause to disagree about anything." Mrs. X smiled. She imagined that of all the couples, Fanny had the most felicity in marriage. All her life, Edmond had been such a central figure, even more important than her self that she had nothing to sacrifice by being Mrs. Bertram. "Do you enjoy being a sailor's wife, Anne?" Mrs. X asked. "Indeed. I have always admired the navy, and until I married, I had seen so little of the world that I am eager for every new opportunity," Anne said. "I fear I do not have much eagerness to see the world. We go to London to see my sister once or twice a year, but rest of the time is spent at home, in the country. I am often surprised at myself that I feel no desire to go away. Mr. Knightley also likes to be at home, in the peace and familiarity of home," Emma said. "Mrs. X, I wonder," Anne hesitated. "Is it true, what the maid said? That our stories are well known in this time?" "Well known!" exclaimed Mrs. X. "They are so famous that had anyone known you would be here, there would have been riots and government would have ceased us all. Anne, your stories have not only entertained but illuminated minds of many a reader throughout centuries. They have been reprinted over and over again, and transformed in audio and video entertainments. They are taught in schools too." Her guests forgot their impeccable manners for a moment and stared open mouthed. "This is most astonishing," Elizabeth said. "This world is so much more interesting, so advanced that I would have thought they would have found our country ways rustic and useless." "It is not your country ways, but the strenght and appeal of you that has caught people's fancy. It is your wit, Lizzy and Emma's sunny disposation; it is Fanny's sincerity and Anne's gentleness that continues to captivate us all," Mrs. X said. "Tell us about this time," Fanny requested. Mrs. X did tell them all about the 21st century, or as much as she could in such a short time. Her guests listened, interrupting her to ask a lot of questions. None of them could tell you now what they ate that evening, as so much information was shared that eating became a mere automatic act. The four ladies had seen a glimpse of this new era, and they had managed to watch a little TV, but what they hadn't grapsed was the disintegration of social structure and rules of conduct and society that they were so rooted in. "But this must be a total chaos. How could anyone know how one is supposed to behave if there are no guidelines?" Emma said, after she heard Mrs. X description of marriages, divorces and living together amoung couples, as well as tales of broken families. "And such disregard for religion, I cannot fathom," Fanny said, her brow wrinkled. "It seems to me, from what little I have seen, that this world has far more need of religion and guidance of the clergy than us." "Most people would disagree with you, I am afraid. Many people believe that science holds all the answers. There is no need for God," Mrs. X said. "But one cannot find solace from science as one could from God," Fanny said. Being a clergyman's wife, this was one subject where even her shyness could not stop her from insisting upon what was right. Mrs. X was well aware of Fanny's views so immediately said, "I am not disagreeing with you, Fanny. I am simply telling you how things are in this world. Even among those who are religious, there are always conflicts between different religions." "But you must have good things too," Emma said. "Of course. We are technologically advanced; it is quite easy to travel around the world, and new experiences are to be had for the asking. We are not very much bound by traditions or society's limitations. Freedom of the individual is highly sought after, at least in the western world. For women, we are no longer restricted to be housewives. We work alongside men, often ahead of them too. We even had a woman prime minister in this country. She didn't exactly do a sterling job, but then neither do any of the male prime ministers, so even that was equal," Mrs. X said. "Some of your marvels are amazing," Elizabeth said. "Your ability to fly. Oh how Frederick would envy that speed," Anne said. "All the wonderful clothes," Emma sighed. "But would you say all these things make for a happier life, Mrs. X?" Fanny asked. Mrs. X considered the question for a moment. "No, I don't believe it does. Simplicity in itself gets rid of a great many distractions, so perhaps your lives with the limitedness of resources available, are richer for it. But I also believe that happiness comes from one self. If one has the will power to focus on the right things in life, and not get distracted, one can find it, even in our crazy world." "That is precisely what Edmond would say," Fanny said. "Yes, I believe he would. Perhaps of all of you, Captain Wentworth, with his spirit for adventure is the only one who would enjoy this world," Mrs. X said. "Mr. Darcy is too firm in his preferences, and Mr. Bertram is content in his parish. Mr. Knightley likes the domestic felicity, and though he might enjoy a little excursion here, I do not believe he would want to stay for long." "Indeed, he would not," Emma agreed. "But we are all better in our time and place," Anne said. "People should remain where they belong." "Ah, but who decides where one belongs, Anne?" Mrs. X asked. "Our own heart," Anne said. Mrs. X raised her glass. "A toast then to following our hearts." Her guests joined her in the toast, content to enjoy their remaining time, and all looking forward to returning home where they belonged, while they enjoyed the decadently delicious deserts of 21st century.